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News & Features » July 2020 » “Death and Preschool” by Erin Weber Boss

“Death and Preschool” by Erin Weber Boss

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.

This week, a five-year-old ponders mortality.

Death and Preschool
by Erin Weberboss
Five-year-old daughter

I have a five-year-old. She’s fierce and stubborn. She’s sweet and empathetic. Case in point: her yearly check up with the pediatrician. After what felt like fifty reassurances that SHE WOULD NOT GET A SHOT, my lovely daughter went happily through her appointment. She told the nurse about her artist-themed birthday party and showed off her one-footed hopping abilities in her underwear during the doctor’s evaluation. After hopping to the end of the room, she stopped short and squatted low to the floor.

“There’s a ladybug in here. It’s dead.”

“Oh, really? We’ll take care of that,” the doctor said. And we finished the appointment.

As she was getting dressed so we could leave, my daughter looked back over. “Mommy, she’s moving! She’s alive!”

She was so happy and then realized we were on the fourth floor of a pediatric office. “How will she get home?”

“Oh, we can take her outside,” I said. I was more concerned with gathering our things and dressing my child. It was a windy March morning, damp and gray. I figured we’d get her shoes on and she’d forget. But she didn’t.

Riding down the escalator, my firstborn cradled a bundled piece of Kleenex carefully between her thumb and index finger. She held the bundle up to the light and glanced through the bottom of the white paper occasionally, verifying the small being’s shadow was still there. She showed anyone who got on the elevator with us.

“This is a ladybug. I’m taking her outside.”

Once downstairs, we stood for what was a considerable amount of time in the hospital’s minimal landscaping outside the medical office, the wind blowing wildly around us. She walked from bush to bush, shuffling through the freshly laid mulch for the perfect spot. Just as I was about to hurry her on, she stopped. “Oh, here’s a good spot for you, Crystal.”

“Crystal?”

“That’s the name I gave her, Mom.”

We carefully unraveled the little Kleenex pocket and placed Crystal the ladybug carefully on a dandelion leaf. “Be safe,” she whispered. The ladybug crawled down between the leaves, out of the wind.

“I can’t see her anymore,” she said.

“She’s probably cold in this wind and went in to get warm. Let’s do the same.”

In the car, she didn’t say much. I watched in the rearview as she sang little songs to herself, songs of her own making. She smiled to herself occasionally.

A few weeks later, I was saying goodnight to her, as I usually do, and brushing the stray curls out of her eyes. Her face was longer, thinner – the baby cheeks were melting away and, more and more, I was seeing girl.

“Mommy, Lizzy’s cat died.”

“Oh, really? Did she tell you that?”

“No, I heard her tell the teachers.”

“Oh, I bet she was sad.”

“No. She was just . . . worried.”

“Yeah, sometimes people seem worried when they lose someone. I bet she loved her cat.” I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable.

“Will Sophie die?”

I thought about our aging black and white pit/boxer mix that my husband and I adopted mere months before we’d married. Her black spot over one eye had gone gray. She still loved a good game of fetch, though, and for the right squirrel, she still had an impressive sprint.

“Someday, she will. Hopefully not anytime soon, though.”

“Do people die?”

“Yes, eventually. But usually when they’re a lot older.”

“Like Great Grandma?”

“Yeah. Great Grandma was very old when she died, baby. All things die eventually.”

She looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to her wall and sat silently another minute. I studied her face and waited.

“Mommy?”

“Yes?” I waited for the questions. Are you going to die? Am I going to die? Where do we go?

I don’t know what happens, so I wasn’t sure what to tell her. For what felt like the millionth time, I questioned why I was given a child when I felt so unprepared to deal with everything that entailed. I don’t know what I’m doing, I screamed in my head.

She looked me straight in the eyes, furrowed her little brows, and said, “Let’s think of everything we can that begins with letter T.” And just like that, the moment passed.

It’s so easy to avoid the uncomfortable, to send them outside, to rush them through the discoveries they need to have as children. Our job is to try and match their pace. 

***

ERIN WEBER BOSS lives in Western North Carolina and writes about the Midwest, motherhood, and feeling “displaced,” a sure result of her childhood as an Army brat. She’s been published in The Great Smokies Review and teaches writing courses at a local community college. 

***

Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jul 9, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



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